Like many of us in the corner of the blogosphere occupied by the culinarily obssessed, I find that there's something about the combination of words and food that generally provokes a ravenous craving for the delicacy being described. I'm not nearly as likely to desire a treat I've seen on television as I am to suddenly hunger for food elaborated in a restaurant review, a food blog, a menu...or a novel. Maybe I'm more of a textual learner than a visual one, or maybe it's just that most of the food on TV is nasty, whereas a good writer can cause me actual hunger pangs with evocative prose about something delicious.
When I was quite a bit younger, there was nothing quite like a good British children's novel for food descriptions. P.L. Travers, Frances Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton; all of them described not only meals and snacks, biscuits and ices, but also the relish with which their young characters devoured them. The very names of the meals themselves made me hungry: Elevenses! Midday dinner! Most glorious of all, Tea! Teas served in gardens, with tiny sandwiches and cakes and strawberries and clotted cream! It seemed as if English people ate lots and lots over the course of a day, which (as a child whose plumpness was early steered toward limited portions and spa cuisine) endeared me strongly to the culture. The sounds of savory dishes too were seductive: steak and mushroom pie, bubble-and-squeak, toad-in-a-hole, bangers and mash -- even if it were only the names without any description, my hunger was aroused. I've yet to try many of these things other than afternoon tea. My limited eating excursions in England have been spent on glorious dinners in Indian restaurants much better than anything New York can offer, and of course full teas, whether in teashops or at the Savoy.
But it was the sweets, ah the puds, that caused me both envy and curiousity. What on earth was treacle sponge, I wondered -- or treacle toffee? What, indeed, was treacle? What sort of a place was it where people ate desserts with names like Queen of Puddings or Bakewell Tart or Sticky Toffee Pudding? How did one steam a pudding? What was gooseberry fool? I read about Shrewsbury biscuits and Bath buns, Maids of Honor and Banbury cakes, jam roly-poly, seed-cake, parkin and Victoria sponge -- and I wanted to try them all, even rock cakes. Almost better than the puddings themselves were the descriptions of them either being drenched in thick cream or slathered with custard. I could only dream.
For today's holiday celebrating St. George, Slayer of Dragons, the adored and adorable Sam of Becks & Posh, and the savvy and eloquent Monkey Gland of Jamfaced dreamed up a glorious event celebrating English puddings. Here, indeed was my chance to try a pudding, a true English pudding -- and what could be more representative than a steamed pudding, something I had never ever tried? But what exactly to make, what to try with limited resources and time?
Fortunately, someone with much more experience in the field of traditional puddings came to my rescue. My chum Bakerina suggested that I make Pig's Bum, which moniker was given this simple butter-vanilla steamed sponge, tinted a faint pink with the addition of lightly cooked rhubarb, by none other than the lovely Nigella Lawson. Bakerina had other fish to fry -- or rather other puddings to steam, since she was off on her own Sussex Pond Pudding adventure. Should you be interested in trying a Pig's Bum yourself, the recipe can be found in Ms. Lawson's first cookbook, How To Eat.
I blithely fashioned a makeshift pudding basin and a steamer, and set about making this wonder. Fortunately I first made real, homemade custard, speckled with plenty of vanilla bean. Knowing how I feel about flans, custards and creams of all kinds, I had a hunch that this might be my favorite part of the dessert, and I was not wrong. But I honestly don't think the recipe is at fault. You see, I was using early-season rhubarb, which is not anywhere near its peak either in terms of color or flavor. It just didn't give the pudding enough zip. But lashing it with plenty of custard and a garnish of more cooked rhubarb helped considerably. G liked it well enough, and utilized the occasion to make a number of jokes about the pudding's name which shall not be repeated here.
In any case, I, like St. George, have slain a dragon by making my very first steamed pudding. I look forward to others. Golden Syrup Sponge, anyone? Why, the very words have me halfway there...